Apr 26, 2017

Militant Tactics in Anti-Fascist Organizing--Interview Transcript

“I think some folks, many folks… try to divide the concept of a mass response with a militant response. That it’s only possible to do one or the other. I think we really want to challenge that. We think that what’s needed is both. And that’s not easy…but that’s our goal. To build a mass, militant movement that includes lots of people and that uses lots of tactics in order to confront this threat.”

This interview with longtime anti-fascist activist Kieran (who was one of the founders of Three Way Fight thirteen years ago) covers a wide range of topics: from the work of Anti-Racist Action in the 1980s and 90s to the IWW’s General Defense Committee today, from the politics of wearing masks to the dangers of relying on the state for protection, and from engaging organized labor to building community-based self-defense against the far right.

The interview was conducted for KPFA Radio’s Against the Grain by the program’s co-producer Sasha Lilley and was broadcast on February 14, 2017. The audio recording is available for download or online listening here. The following transcription, by Clarissa Rogers, appears with the permission of Against the Grain and the participants.

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Kieran was one of the founders of Anti-Racist Action, a youth-based direct action movement that organized against Nazi skinheads, the Ku Klux Klan, and the white power music scene from the 1980s to the 2000s. He’s now chief steward in a local union of telecom workers and is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World’s General Defense Committee, which has taken on anti-fascist work in a number of cities. In late January, a member of the General Defense Committee of the IWW was shot at a Milo Yiannopoulos event in Seattle. Against the Grain, a program of radical ideas originating from KPFA Radio, spoke with him after demonstrators closed down Yiannapoulous’ event at UC Berkeley on February 1st.

ATG: Kieran, many liberals and leftists believe that the right of free speech is paramount. As you know, protestors using militant tactics shut down a Milo Yiannopoulos event at UC Berkeley, which is the home of the Free Speech Movement. Why don’t you think that the right of free speech should be extended to fascists and the far right?

Kieran: There are a couple points to this. I think there’s both a question of strategy and tactics. I think that all of this is with the understanding that what we’re opposing is not the free speech of fascists, or the speeches of fascists. What we’re doing is opposing the organizing of the fascists. So, for instance, in my workplace, I work with workers with a whole range of opinions on all different kinds of questions. And occasionally you’re going to run into people who are influenced by far right politics. In those circumstances it doesn’t make sense for me to start a fight, a physical fight with a coworker since they raised some perspective that comes from that background.

But that’s totally different than a situation where you have an organization or a personality who’s using the framework of a public speech or an event, a forum, in order to advance political goals. And so the way we look at it is the way we would look at any kind of organizing done by that group with those aims.

In the case at UC Berkeley, this outright celebrity and provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, very clearly is trying to advance a certain kind of politics and more and more is trying to shape it into a movement. Our understanding is that he was planning to out undocumented students at Berkeley for the sole purpose of putting them under attack by Trump’s immigration forces. And, so, in that circumstance, we can’t let that attack go unchallenged. And I think that when you look at it from that perspective, it makes sense to try and oppose it.

If we just wait until they’ve created the groundswell, or created the base of support for these aggressive actions to take place, it can be too late. And so the way we approach fascist organizing or right wing organizing is not really focused on the question of free speech but is focused on whether or not we’re going to let them organize to implement their program. And our perspective is that we’re not. We’re going to challenge it. We’re going to try to stop it. We’re going to try to stop them.

ATG: Let’s talk about the stakes. On the night of Inauguration Day, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World was shot in the stomach by a Milo Yiannopoulos supporter in Seattle. What do we know about what happened there and the condition of the man who was shot?

Kieran: Yeah, that’s correct. On the night of the inauguration, Yiannopoulos was speaking at the University of Washington in Seattle and there was a mass demonstration against him that included a range of political forces. And there was also a number of supporters of Trump and Yiannopoulos who were there as well. So there was a fairly confrontational scene happening outside of Yiannopoulos’s talk. And in that situation, my understanding (I wasn’t there), but my understanding was that one of the right wingers started to spray mace or another chemical at the anti-Trump, anti-Yiannopoulous forces, and that a member of the IWW and the General Defense Committee tried to intervene to stop that person from doing that, and was shot in the stomach, as you said.

It was a life-threatening injury. He was in the ICU for many days. He’s incurred at least two surgeries. So it was a deadly attack. And as of now, there have been no charges brought against the person who did it. Again, our understanding from media reports is that the person that shot him went to the police and gave a statement, and was released without any charges. And so, of course, this is sort of a bad sign for where things are at right now, that we take very seriously. Because as it stands what it appears is that some people are going to walk away from this with the idea that anti-fascists can be shot without consequences. And that’s very dangerous.

ATG: And in fact, that’s been the case. This past summer, there was a confrontation between white supremacists and radicals in Sacramento, California where a number of people were stabbed and there were no consequences.

Kieran: Right. I think that just points to a broader point, which is that we can’t rely on the law enforcement, on the state, to either defend our communities or defend anti-fascists. Some anti-racists have a perspective of wanting to try and call on the state to carry out justice and our approach is a little different. We come from it with an understanding that the state is not neutral. That the state is built on the foundation of a history exploitation and oppression, and represents the folks who are at the top of that system, and defend their interest. So when we’re organizing, we don’t do so from the point of view of trying to get the state or the police to protect us or to find justice for us, but instead we try and build movements that are self-reliant and are based on community self-defense, on popular self-defense.

ATG: There’s been a lot of debate amongst progressives and leftists about the use of militant tactics. Some of this is a continuation of debates that came out of Occupy, some of this goes even further back, but there are a lot of conflicting opinions. There’s no unity whatsoever amongst the left about the use of militant tactics, whether property damage or the shutting down an event. Are there times when militant tactics aren’t called for? Do they need to be considered strategically among other possible tactics?

Kieran: Yeah. I think all of this is a question of tactics. So that being said, I think we have some underlying principles, as well. And that those inform the tactics that we would draw from in order to organize effectively. And you can imagine lots of different situations where you’re encountering the right or the fascists, where either you don’t have the means to effectively disrupt their activity and their organizing, or you want to sort of put a larger emphasis on trying to undermine their ability to develop their base. And so there’s a few things, and it’s never been just a question of militant tactics. Militant tactics is a part of our strategy, but it’s not the only part.

A big part of it is a battle for the hearts and minds that the fascists are trying to recruit for their base. So we’ve always, along with militant tactics against their organizing, have also tried to engage with the communities that the fascists are targeting. And that can be from interviews or leafletting, to building cultural events like shows with bands, to trying to connect with the people in those communities that already have an anti-fascist impulse possibly because of their identity or how they see the world. But we try and bring a message that this program that the right wing and the fascists are selling is not in our interest as working class people. And that it is a dangerous and divisive one, and that it’s going to lead to a common catastrophe if enacted. And in fact, many of the concerns people have would be better served by organizing a united multi-racial, multi-cultural, anti-fascist movement that challenges the system.

ATG: One of the things that comes up in these debates--and not just from liberals, but also from others on the left--is that militant action can actually be alienating for those who would like to build larger grassroots opposition to the right. How would you respond to that?

Kieran: I’ve heard those arguments a lot. And I think it’s true that sometimes there’s poorly organized, or militancy that’s not well thought out. But I hear that argument, oftentimes from people who are really upset with how the mainstream media covers us. Or how the more moderate tendencies within the social movements react to it. While those things are important to be mindful of, I think that there’s also a question of people beyond the current left. People in working class communities. People who are already suspicious of what the mainstream media tells us. And I just think that it’s a fact that most working class people respect folks that stand up and are willing to defend themselves, and are willing to take risks. And so, you can watch a news report in which anti-fascists, or anarchists, or radicals are being condemned, but people receive that information in all different kinds of ways. People that are already suspicious of the way the mainstream media talks about anything, are likely to have a more positive response seeing a group of people standing up and fighting back.

So I think that we have to be really careful about arguments like that, because I think it tends to try and reduce all of our tactics to whatever the most moderate elements within the movement are willing to support. And that’s just not a recipe for building the kind of movement that we need. And it’s not a recipe for bringing in the most marginalized people, the people that are feeling sort of the knife’s edge of the system the most, because those folks already have an antagonistic attitude towards the system and towards these racists. And so if we’re serious [about] including those folks in our movements, then we can’t take a sort of moderate attitude towards them. When the racists and fascists are organizing, we have to be ready to stand up and fight.

ATG: I’d like to ask you about Anti-Racist Action, a youth-based militant direct action movement which organized against Nazi skinheads in the white power music scene and which you co-founded. It was started in the 1980s and lasted through the 2000s. How broad was it? And what sort of work did it do? There’s a renewed interest in it now.

Kieran: It started out sort of spontaneously in this sense. In the mid to late 80s, largely within the punk scene in the US and Canada, there was a sort of polarization politically that happened. And so, around the same time in many cities there were white supremacists and Nazi gangs formed. They were influenced by Screwdriver (which was a Nazi skinhead band, I should say), and the fascist politics of the National Front in Britain. And in response to that, or sometimes ahead of that there were groups that considered themselves militantly anti-racist and anti-fascist, and these two sets of groups could not coexist for long within alternative scenes, within the punk scene.

So there was a struggle that went on simultaneously in a number of cities, and the anti-racists who often started off as anti-racist skinheads and some punks, and some anarchist activists found each other after a while, either through touring with bands or through the letters column in Maximum Rocknroll, or by corresponding with each other, and started to network, started to build. So Anti-Racist Action was the organizing expression of that spontaneous organizing that happened in the youth culture scenes in North America.

Then, over the years it did broaden out to include people that didn’t come from those scenes that came from other subcultural scenes like graffiti, or young feminists, and hip-hop. It started to take on other issues, too, related to racism and white supremacy. So you had Anti-Racist Action chapters that organized Copwatch patrols against police brutality; participated in protests against police violence; helped defend abortion clinics from the far-right Christian right; and a number of other fronts that Anti-Racist Action was active in. So at its peak, it included several thousand mainly young people in North America who were self-organizing in their cities and in their scenes, and putting out zines and holding benefit concerts, and really, any time the fascists tried to make a move, resisting them.

At one point in the 90s, one of the major Ku Klux Klan groups tried to organize a series of rallies across the Midwest. They did this over the course of a few years, in little towns and big towns in Ohio, and Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan. Anti-Racist Action was key to organizing resistance in all of those places. That meant, also, being in those small towns and talking to people, mainly young people in those towns and trying to connect with them. That was successful.

There was a number of ARA chapters in small towns as well as the big cities where the left is stronger. I think Anti-Racist Action, which had plenty of problems as all movements do, can really say that it helped restrain and deliver some defeats to fascist organizing in the US.

ATG: How seriously did the far right take the work of Anti-Racist Action? Did they see it as a genuine threat to their organizing?

Kieran: Absolutely. We were the major force that they had to deal with in terms of opposition on the streets. So they were very conscious of Anti-Racist Action. In every locality there would be conflicts, and there were many people who were harassed or intimidated, who might have gotten their homes graffittied, or phone calls to their parents with threats from the fascists. They definitely saw us as an obstacle to their ability, especially their ability to organize openly and in the public, and in contested public space.

I suppose the peak of this was in Las Vegas in 1998, I believe, on the 4th of July weekend a couple of anti-racist skinheads, one who was African American and one who was white, both of whom were well-known in the scene and active in Anti-Racist Action were kidnapped by a gang of white supremacists, and tortured and killed and left in the desert. So there were people that died fighting, being a part of this movement. That really hangs heavy for me and the other people that have been part of this, as does the shooting in Seattle, when you hear people complaining about the possible violation of Milo Yiannopoulos’s rights.

ATG: Let me ask you a question of clarification. You’ve mentioned anti-racist and anti-fascist skinheads several times. I think for a lot of people, when they hear the term “skinhead” they assume that’s synonymous with fascist and racist, and not anti-fascist and anti-racist.

Kieran: Yeah, sure. Skinhead culture came to the US mainly from the influence of British music, bands. The initial skinhead cultural scene from England, and the bands that were most popular within it, was a multi-racial scene, heavily influenced by Jamaican immigrants to England. So the skinhead identity has always been contested. Anti-racist skinheads make a strong claim that in fact the original skinhead identity was not a racist one, and was a multi-racial one. In the US, among the original chapters of anti-racist action, and the original fighters against white supremacist skinheads were a number of youth of color. So there were African American skinheads. In Chicago, there were Puerto Rican skinheads. In Milwaukee. There were Native American skinheads in Minneapolis, and they were a big and important part of the struggle that happened against the racists.

ATG: Let’s take things up to the present, looking at the lessons that can be drawn from the decades of work of Anti-Racist Action for the current situation where, with the Trump administration in power, you have an emboldened far right. Part of that far right, the alt right, is operating less on the streets and more on the level of propaganda on the internet, but then there are certainly groups on the ground as well. Can you tell us about the General Defense Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World and your political approach to countering fascist and racist forces on the ground?

Kieran: Definitely. I think you’re right in describing the situation right now--that we’ve gone from a situation where we were concerned about the growth of particular fascist and white supremacist organizations, and their movement building to a situation where all of a sudden, particularly through the alt right, there’s suddenly this mass propaganda and mass distribution of fascist ideas, so it’s no longer just about the growth of a neo-Nazi group in a certain town, but it’s the fact that the college Republicans on your campus are peddling alt right ideas. Also that that’s circulating on social media, and that it’s become a part of the public debate in a way that the neo-Nazi groups and Ku Klux Klan groups could never quite achieve in the past couple decades.

So that is a serious situation, and I think the thing that the GDC brings to this, is trying to formulate, is trying to connect the ideas of community self-defense, popular self-defense, popular anti-fascism with the idea that we need to cultivate a working-class base. That it can’t just be a squadron of elite anti-fascist carrying out a technical operation that’s going to win this. That we need to get the masses of working class people in our milieus from all different kinds of communities and identities together. That’s what it’s going to take to defeat the politics that Trump is putting forward in the system that gave birth to it.

I think that while we are proud to be militant anti-fascists, and we take that identity seriously, and we take those tactics seriously, we don’t want to marginalize ourselves, we don’t want to be what Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin called a vanguard versus vanguard where people just see two street gangs fighting with each other, and don’t really see their needs or demands met by either one of them. Instead, we want to try and organize ourselves and our coworkers and our neighbors into a popular response to the fascists. One that, when we take action, we’re not just doing it on behalf of a small cadre of people but that it’s really an expression of a community, and of the working class as a whole.

ATG: How do you do that in practical terms?

Kieran: Well, I think, in many ways, it’s how we talk about it. It’s who we try to involve in our actions. It’s the way we report about and the way that we sum up our actions. The way we decide if we’re successful or not. So it’s not just purely a question of are we able to disrupt their organizing on this day? But it’s also a question of were we able to help develop a base within this community or within this working class that is going to be able to continually be able to confront the fascists and make it a hard place for the fascists to organize and grow?

Some concrete examples of that might be when neo-Nazis plan to organize against an anti-racist program that was being held by a local YWCA in Minneapolis a few years ago, we took that as an attack on the community. We organized leafletting in the neighborhood. We encouraged the neighbors to come out, the community to come out. We held a public meeting. So we gave a chance for people from the neighborhood and from different other organizations to become part of the organizers of the counter-action. There were some reformist leftist groups that came and really argued against any militancy. We argued with them in the open meetings so that there could be a community judgment about which tactics were best.

Myself, I coached soccer--youth soccer--in the parks here in Minneapolis and I let other parents from the folks that I coached with, let them know about this since it was in our neighborhood. And I distributed information about it at work, and brought out coworkers to it. So our attitude is that we want to build a popular defense against this. The fascists attack not just a small group of people, but really are against huge communities, and against the class as a whole. It weakens the class as a whole. So we want to have a popular response.

I think some folks, many folks--on both sides--try to divide the concept of a mass response with a militant response. That it’s only possible to do one or the other.

I think we really want to challenge that. We think that what’s needed is both. And that’s not easy. There’s no simple formula to it. We’re going to need to experiment. We’re going to get some things wrong. We’re going to bend the stick too far one way or the other, undoubtedly, but that’s our goal. To build a mass, militant movement that includes lots of people and that uses lots of tactics in order to confront this threat.

ATG: Frequently, when people are involved in militant actions, they wear masks or take other steps to keep from being identified by the police or the far right.  But what if that anonymity allows people to become vigilantes, unaccountable to other radicals for their actions?  In your experience, how has this tension between militant action and accountability been addressed?"

Kieran: The question of masks is one that there has been some debate around within the General Defense Committee and the broader circles we participate in. But I'm not sure that accountability is the main issue. I agree that there should be some kind of accountability by individuals and groups to the broader movement (and, I would say, to the working-class base) but what that accountability is - is open to debate. For instance some sections of the movement insist on strictly legalistic framework and use the argument that anything outside of a strict legalism threatens the most vulnerable and oppressed. We should challenge that argument--when real, sustained militancy erupts it is almost always from those who feel the pressure the most--if others join in, that is an important act of solidarity. And we should reject "accountability" to the law or to forces inside the movement who would turn people over to the authorities.

But it is true I think that groups and individuals should be answerable in some form to their tactical decisions - but this is not just true of masked-up militants, but of everyone in an action. People should be accountable for working with the police (an act that endangers us), or for the political line that they project on banners, flyers, or chants etc. In other words ALL tactics should be open to debate and criticism.

To get further at the specifics of your question--masks may hide an individuals identity and therefore prevent that particular individual from being "accountable", but generally people in political movements, especially if they've been around for a while, have an idea of the different forces involved and not knowing an individual's name has never stopped folks from (rightly or wrongly) criticizing actions.

The question we've been debating here about masks is a little different. We've been debating whether they are actually effective for security. Now we aren't arguing about whether they are effective at concealing your identity--lets say they are. But we've noticed that if you are a smallish group of people all masked up in a larger demo--the police will actually focus on you--instead of becoming camouflaged, you are actually in the spotlight. The cops may not immediately know who you are but if they focus on the masks, they can just wait until an opportune time and surround and detain the masked-up people and ID or arrest them. We've seen this happen a couple of times.

This speaks to what actually provides security--I would say it is having a real working-class base of support for your organizing, for your projects. Regular people that have a stake in the organizing, that understand the need for militant action, that are willing to stand up and defend each other both politically and physically - that give a shit if one of their friends or comrades is attacked or arrested. This is a much more important, much more real form of security--but it often gets lost in the aesthetic desire for a certain militant "look" that includes masks.

Another related consideration is that masks can make it harder to further develop a base--to talk to people at an action or other event, to have discussions and arguments. There is also the very real factor that folks can get confused as to what people in the masks stand for--and not just liberal pacifists either. The GDC's experience in participating in the struggle for Justice for Jamar Clark (a young unarmed African-American worker killed by the Minneapolis Police in 2015) was that many times people from the Northside community where Jamar was from, who were quite militant were also very suspicious of people in their midst with masks on. This was exacerbated by the fact that a group of masked-up white supremacists attacked the protest occupation, shooting and seriously wounding four people. So there were a couple times where people from the community tried to evict masked up activists from street demos--and this wasn't the "peace police"-types, but neighborhood militants. We spent time arguing with people over evicting them, we defended those wearing masks--but I started thinking "Is this really effective? Is this the best use of our time?"

In saying all that, we should never rule out masks. It's a tactical choice. For all the above negative examples, there are also counter-examples of folks from different scenes sharing masks at mass actions that turn militant, where masks handed out were appreciated and seen as an asset. The point is that we should think through tactical choices, weigh the pros and cons--with one of the main considerations being will this help build/expand a militant working-class base to fight fascism, to fight exploitation and oppression.

ATG: You’re the chief steward at a local union in Minneapolis, which represents telecom workers. What do you think labor’s role should be in battling the forces of the right? Most unions are, of course, not the Industrial Workers of the World. They don’t self-identify as radical. But even though unions only represent a small portion of the working class, they still are the only membership-based organizations of the working class. Is there a role for unions? And is it realistic to expect them to be involved in such militant action against the right?

Kieran: I think so. I think if we look at where there have been mass confrontations, going back to the 80s and 90s where some Klan rallies provoked big responses, where large numbers of people came out in Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania, Indiana--lots of times you’re going to run into union members who come out against that stuff. We need to turn it away from just being individual actions of individual union members, to more of an organized expression.

So I think you’re right that unions, along with churches and other houses of worship, are some of the few mass membership organizations out in the class. We need to go to the unions. And if the union leadership wants to avoid it or doesn’t take this seriously, then we need to build rank and file groups that are willing to take this seriously.

My experience is, actually, that people in work places are incredibly interested in this stuff. If the Klan is coming to your town, or if there are fascists organizing in your city, people--more people than one might expect--are interested in opposition to that. And I think we need to build on that. And I think that hopefully the GDC, with its origins in the labor movement, can play a role in bringing on board some unions, or groups of rank and file workers from the unions who can be a part of this movement.

ATG: Let me end by asking you perhaps the hardest question, which is: in thinking about opposing the right and the very serious threats that people are facing in the United States right now, is the greatest threat from fascist groups on the ground or is the repression of the state a much more serious issue as we’re seeing with the deportations of the undocumented, first under Obama, of course, and now under Trump? And if that’s the case, how do we fight that?

Kieran: That’s a good question. I don’t think that it’s either/or. I think that the state is becoming increasingly oppressive. And part of what is allowing that to happen is, even though Trump lost the popular vote, and millions more people didn’t vote for either of the candidates, the fact that he did have millions of voters allows him to present a mandate to carry out these actions.

I read a recent article about how Trump was very keen on using his Twitter to unleash action. This wouldn’t be formally state action, he’s not necessarily calling the FBI to go harass one of his critics. But by using social media he’s able to unleash a torrent of abuse on whoever he’s decided is the enemy of the moment, by his supporters.

So I think that there are two things. There’s the danger of increased deportations, increased raids, attacks on the ability of women to get reproductive health care. There are attacks on so many fronts that are going to come from the state, and some moving back by both parties. We have to be aware of that. So we’re going to need to form resistance to that.

And then at the same time, one of the big dangers is that the forces on the ground, people that we might live next to or work with, are going to be organized into right wing and fascist formations, or at least be soft support for that taking place. I think that some of our tactics and our strategies are similar for both, though. When we talk about organizing community self-defense, that’s not just against the fascists, or just against the state, but against whatever attacks come. Even from attacks within the community from anti-social or sexist or racist elements within the community. So I think that a strategy that we’ve set for the near term, which is organizing community self-defense, is the method that’s needed for both.

  • Feb 18, 2017

    How the Alt Right builds on earlier far right upsurges: teleSUR article

    I have an opinion piece on teleSUR about “How the Alt Right Builds on Earlier Far-Right Upsurges.”  A lot of my work over the past couple of years has been based on a distinction between the far right and the system-loyal right. The teleSUR article summarizes this analytic point:
    "The alt-right's attitude toward Trump highlights an important dividing line within the U.S. right — the divide between those who accept the legitimacy of the existing political system, and those who don't. I reserve the term 'far right' for forces that (1) regard human inequality as natural or inevitable and (2) reject the established political order on principle. The 'system-loyal right,' by contrast, includes those forces that want to make change through incremental measures. An analogy on the left is the difference between social democrats and communists, reformists and revolutionaries.

    "One of the biggest ways that far rightists make an impact is through collaboration and interchange with system-loyal rightists, such as alt-rightists helping to put Trump in the White House and using his campaign to increase their own visibility. Yet the two part company on whether to accept the U.S. political system or abandon it and sooner or later that is likely to lead to conflict."
    The article presents the Alt Right's rise in the context of the Nazi-Klan upsurge of the 1980s and the Patriot movement's rise in the 1990s:
    "Unlike the Nazi-Klan movement of the 1980s or the Patriot movement of the 1990s, the alt-right mostly exists online. This means it is unlikely to take up armed struggle or organize militias, but it has powerful tools to continue its 'metapolitical' strategy, to shift the parameters of political discourse as a first stage before transforming institutions. And unlike the previous two far-right upsurges, which were met by federal government crackdowns, the alt-right now faces a presidential administration that it helped to put in power."

    Feb 8, 2017

    Against the Grain interview: The Origins and Politics of the Alt-Right

    The Pacifica Radio program Against the Grain recently broadcast an interview with me about the Alt Right. Here's their description:
    "Until the last year or two, most people had never heard of the alt-right. But the lead up to the election of Donald Trump has highlighted its noxious influence, including in the corridors of power. Is the term the 'alt-right' just a fig leaf for neo-Nazism? Or is the alternative right a new formation of reactionary politics, steeped in white supremacy and misogyny? Scholar Matthew Lyons talks about the intellectual origins of the alternative right, and the relationship between the alt-right and Trump’s key advisor Steve Bannon. He also weighs in on whether the Trump administration is fascist."
    The interview, which was conducted by Against the Grain co-producer Sasha Lilley and aired on February 6, is available for download or for listening online.

    Jan 20, 2017

    Ctrl-Alt-Delete: new report on the alternative right

    A new in-depth report on the alt-right, by me, is now available on the Political Research Associates website, under the title "Ctrl-Alt-Delete: The origins and ideology of the Alternative Right."

    This same report will also soon be available as part of a hard-copy booklet from Kersplebedeb Publishing, under the title Ctrl-Alt-Delete: An Antifascist Report on the Alternative Right. The booklet will also feature "The Rich Kids of Fascism: Why the Alt-Right Didn't Start With Trump, and Won't End With Him Either" from the It's Going Down website, "Notes on Trump" by Bromma, and other resources.

    Jan 19, 2017

    It's Going Down podcast: Matthew Lyons on the Insurgent Far Right, Trump, and #DisruptJ20

    I was interviewed about the far right and the Trump administration for a podcast on the It’s Going Down website. The podcast opens with a long rap piece and a general introduction by the host. The interview itself starts around 10:10.

    Dec 3, 2016

    Alt-right: more misogynistic than many neonazis

    One of the major problems with the campaign to replace the term “alt-right” with “white supremacist” is that it tends to obscure other important dimensions of alt-right politics. The alt-right’s misogyny merits special attention, for a couple of reasons. First, woman-hating shapes and drives alt-right online activism in a specific and important way. Second, the alt-right is actually more misogynistic than many neonazi groups have been in recent decades — further belying claims that “alt-right” is just a benign code word for “neonazi.”

    The alt-right’s use of online harassment as a political tactic is one of its most distinctive and important features. In the Spring of 2016, for example, anti-Trump protesters at Portland State University were flooded with racist, transphobic, and antisemitic messages, rape and death threats, and doxxing (public releases of personal information, such as where they live and work), sent from anonymous social media accounts. And it’s not just progressive activists who get this kind of treatment. David French, staff writer at the conservative National Review, describes the year-long stream of relentless online abuse his family has endured because he criticized Trump and the alt-right:
    “I saw images of my daughter’s face in gas chambers, with a smiling Trump in a Nazi uniform preparing to press a button and kill her. I saw her face photoshopped into images of slaves. She was called a ‘niglet’ and a ‘dindu.’ The alt-right unleashed on my wife, Nancy, claiming that she had slept with black men while I was deployed to Iraq, and that I loved to watch while she had sex with ‘black bucks.’ People sent her pornographic images of black men having sex with white women, with someone photoshopped to look like me, watching.”
    It’s no coincidence that sexual violence and the objectification and humiliation of women and girls feature heavily in these campaigns. As a tactic, alt-right online harassment is rooted squarely in the pervasive, systematic pattern of threats and abuse that women have faced online for years. This pattern of harassment, which Anne Thériault has described as “gender terrorism,” often involves threats of rape and other forms of violence, and it’s used to silence women all the time. Whether or not the perpetrators also use physical intimidation or attacks, as they sometimes do, the effects can be devastating.

    A key connecting link here is Gamergate, an online campaign starting in 2014 to silence and terrorize women who worked in — or were critical of sexism in — the video game industry. This campaign took the diffuse online harassment of women and sharpened it into coordinated attacks against a series of specific women, who faced streams of misogynistic invective, rape and death threats, and doxxing. Gamergate caused several women to leave their homes out of fear for their physical safety.

    The driving force behind Gamergate was the “manosphere,” an online antifeminist male subculture that has grown rapidly in recent years, largely outside traditional right-wing networks. There’s significant overlap between the manosphere and the alt-right, both of which are heavily active on discussion websites such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit. A number of men who promoted Gamergate — such as Theodore Beale (Vox Day), Matt Forney, and Andrew Auernheimer (weev) — are also active in the alt-right, while other alt-rightists — such as Gregory Hood at Counter-Currentsdefended Gamergate as an important front in the war to defend white European culture.

    Not surprisingly, the alt-right brought Gamergate tactics into electoral politics. A lot of alt-right harassment targets women — even, as Robert Evans points out, “when they’re ostensibly targeting men”: for example, when alt-rightists’ harassment of Republican political strategist Rick Wilson failed to have an impact, they started harassing his 22-year-old daughter. “[T]hey stalked her at her school, they followed her, they put notes on the door where she used to live…. they’ve got people calling the University of Tennessee saying ‘Eleanor Wilson's involved in prostitution and drug sales and all this other shit.’” The attacks on David French’s family detailed above follow a similar pattern.

    Harassing and defaming women isn’t just a tactic; it also serves the alt-right’s broader agenda and long-term vision for society. Thanks partly (but by no means only) to manosphere influence, most of the alt-right declares loudly that women are intellectually and morally inferior to men and should be stripped of any political role. Alt-rightists tell us that it’s natural for men to rule over women and that women want and need this, that “giving women freedom [was] one of mankind’s greatest mistakes,” that women should “never be allowed to make foreign policy [because] their vindictiveness knows no bounds,” that feminism is defined by mental illness and has turned women into “caricatures of irrationality and hysteria.” And while alt-rightists give lip service to the traditionalist idea that women have important, dignified roles to play as mothers and homemakers, the overwhelming message is that women as a group are contemptible, pathetic creatures not worthy of respect.

    This might seem like standard far right poison, but it’s actually worse than what many neonazi groups  outside the alt-right have been saying about women — or at least non-Jewish white women — for the past few decades. Like alt-rightists today, neonazis have long argued that gender differences are natural and immutable, and that men and women have distinct but complementary social roles to play. For some neonazis, this means that any public political role for women is dangerous and wrong. Yet since the 1980s other neonazis have promoted a kind of racist quasi-feminism, arguing that white women have important roles to play not only as mothers and nurturers, but also as race warriors in their own right, and that white men's derogation of white women should be combated.

    Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance (WAR), one of the most influential neonazi groups of the 1980s, pioneered this line, sponsoring an affiliate called the Aryan Women’s League and denouncing (white) women’s oppression as a product of Jewish influence. Over the following quarter century, a number of neonazi groups, including National Vanguard, SS Action Group, and the National Socialist Movement, also criticized white women's oppression to varying degrees, as historian Martin Durham details in his 2007 book White Rage: The Extreme Right and American Politics (Chapter 6). Today, similar positions are promoted by groups such as the Creativity Movement-affiliated Women’s Frontier, which rejects the idea of male-female equality yet encourages women to become activists and leaders as well as wives and mothers, and the international group Women for Aryan Unity, which calls for “reinventing the concept of ‘feminism’ within the parameters of Race and Revolution.”

    Combining white supremacy with elements of feminism traces back to at least the 1920s, when the half-million-strong Women of the Ku Klux Klan criticized gender inequality among white Protestants and recruited many former women’s suffrage activists. It’s one of many ways that far rightists appropriate progressive political themes in distorted form, from anti-capitalism to ecological awareness.

    A similar kind of quasi-feminism also had a foothold in the alt-right during its early years. As I wrote in 2010, the original AlternativeRight.com featured some articles that reflected “an old school conservative anti-feminism,” but also others that “reflect[ed] feminist influence”:
    “Andrew Yeoman, for example, lists ‘kryptonite to women’ among the alternative right movement's eight major weaknesses. ‘Many women won't associate with our ideas. Why is this important? Because it leaves half our people out of the struggle. The women that do stick around have to deal with a constant litany of abuse and frequent courtship invitations from unwanted suitors. ...nothing says “you’re not important to us” [more] than sexualizing women in the movement. Don’t tell me that’s not an issue. I’ve seen it happen in all kinds of radical circles, and ours is the worst for it.’” [Yeoman was then the leading U.S. spokesperson for National-Anarchism, an offshoot of neonazism that advocates a decentralized system of ethnically pure “tribal” enclaves.]
    As far as I can tell, such quasi-feminism is now completely gone from the alt-right, replaced by a near consensus that women should be vilified and excluded. In contrast to Yeoman’s frank acknowledgement that sexism kept women out of the movement, the Traditionalist Youth Network now argues that women have been underrepresented in white nationalist circles because by nature they are “neither designed nor inclined to develop or encourage politically aggressive subcultures.” The Daily Stormer has a policy against publishing anything written by women and calls for limiting women's involvement in the movement —in the face of criticism from women on the more old school neonazi discussion site Stormfront. And Gamergater-turned-alt-rightist Matt Forney declares that “Trying to ‘appeal’ to women is an exercise in pointlessness…. it’s not that women should be unwelcome [in the alt-right], it’s that they’re unimportant.”

    Let’s hope that men like Forney continue to believe that women are unimportant — it might just be their undoing. Let’s hope they continue to underestimate women like Alyssa Pagan, one of the anti-Trump protesters at Portland State University who faced alt-right harassment and threats this past Spring:
    “‘Much of the online alt-right’s assessment about my lot in capitalist hierarchy is correct,’ Pagan told ThinkProgress. ‘A person like me should be too timid and mired in shame to dare challenge such open chauvinism. Black, Latina, Trans, poor, survivor, etc. But their read of my feminist praxis as fragile is way off,’ she continued. ‘I don’t get triggered, I don’t yearn for safe space, and I don’t have anything to lose.’”

    Photo credit: Charlotte Cooper, via Flickr Commons (CC BY 2.0)

    Related posts on Three Way Fight:
    Calling them 'alt-right' helps us fight them, November 2016
    Jack Donovan on men: a masculine tribalism for the far right, November 2015
    Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements, September 2005

    Nov 22, 2016

    Calling them "alt-right" helps us fight them

    If “alt-right” is a benign-sounding label to hide white supremacist ideology, why do so many alt-rightists go out of their way to sound as shockingly bigoted as possible?

     There’s a campaign among Trump opponents to get people to stop using the term “alt-right” — a campaign that I believe is misguided. Supposedly, “alt-right” is a deceptive euphemism that white supremacists created to hide their hateful beliefs. Belt Magazine floated this idea back in July:
    “‘Alt-right’ — shorthand for the the Alternative Right — is, like ‘pro-life,’ the term the group gave itself. It is misleading, misrepresentative, and, most importantly, a benign or even attractive term…. So let us pick a new term to refer to this new group… ‘White supremacist’ works for me. ‘White nationalist’ seems apt as well. In some cases, ‘neo-Nazi’ applies.”
    Recently, Daily Kos echoed the thought:
    “The Neo Nazis know that their usual tags inspire revulsion amongst many Americans. That’s why Bannon and his ilk have invented the term ‘Alt Right’….

    They knew they had to rebrand. And they knew using a different term would help obfuscate the truth of what they are.

    So stop using the term ‘Alt-Right’ and just come out and call them what they are:

    Neo Nazis. And if that’s too raw, then at least have the integrity to call them White Supremacists or White Nationalists.”
    Similar arguments have been circulating on Twitter, as Quartz reports.

    I completely agree that we should expose and combat white supremacist politics in all its forms, but a campaign to abolish the term “alt-right” doesn’t help us do this and actually makes it harder. If we want to understand the alt-right’s strengths and weaknesses, we need to understand what it shares with older white nationalist currents — but also what sets it apart. By contrast, the “don’t use ‘alt-right’” campaign promotes misunderstanding and ignorance about the movement it’s trying to confront.

    To begin with, if “alt-right” is just a benign-sounding label to hide white supremacist ideology, why do so many alt-rightists go out of their way to sound as shockingly bigoted as possible? Here’s how Antifascist News describes one of the most popular alt-right websites, The Right Stuff:
    “[On The Right Stuff] they choose to openly use racial slurs, degrade women and rape survivors, mock the holocaust and call for violence against Jews. Their podcast, The Daily Shoah, which is a play on The Daily Show and the Yiddish term for The Holocaust, is a roundtable discussion of different racists broadcasting under pseudonyms. Here they do voice ‘impressions’ of Jews, and consistently use terms like ‘Nig Nog,’ “Muds (referring to ‘mud races,’ meaning non-white), and calling people of African descent ‘Dingos.’  The N-word, homophobic slurs, and calls for enforced cultural patriarchy and heteronormativity are commonplace.”
    As Antifascist News points out, the racist language that’s routine on The Right Stuff is so vile it’s not even allowed on Stormfront, the oldest and largest neonazi website.

    Far from toning down their politics to sound more benign, many alt-rightists have actually taken the opposite approach. Old school white supremacists such as David Duke and Willis Carto made careers of dressing up their nazi politics as “populism” or “conservatism.” But now alt-right “shitlords” bombard Twitter with swastikas and gas chamber jokes, and ridicule antifascism the way 1960s radicals ridiculed anticommunism.

    The Daily Kos idea that Steve Bannon “and his ilk” invented the term “alt-right” compounds the distortion. Bannon is actually a latecomer to the movement, a popularizer who — first at Breitbart News and then as a member of Trump’s team — has offered a toned-down version of alt-right politics for mass consumption. Richard Spencer — who introduced the term “alternative right” years ago to describe a convergence of diverse right-wing forces outside the conservative establishment — has termed this fellow-traveler phenomenon “alt-lite.”

    On a deeper level, the “don’t call them ‘alt-right’” campaign embodies the unfortunate idea that white supremacist politics are basically all the same. Supposedly, once we know that alt-rightists uphold racist ideology, the details don’t really matter, and exploring them just distracts us from the central issue. But it’s precisely these “details” that help us understand what has made the alt-right a significant force, its capacity to tap into popular fears and grievances, its relationship with other political forces, its internal tensions and points of weakness. A few decades ago, most of the racist far right abandoned Jim Crow segregationism in favor of white nationalism — the doctrine that people of European descent shouldn’t just rule over people of color, but exclude or exterminate them entirely. Opponents who failed to recognize this shift were caught off guard when white supremacists moved from terrorizing black people to waging war on the U.S. government.

    Saying we shouldn’t call them “alt-right” is saying that we don’t need to understand our enemy. It’s like a conservative in 1969 looking at the New Left — spanning from Alinskyites to Yippies, from Clean for Gene canvassers to the Weathermen — saying, “This ‘New Left’ label is just a ploy to hide their subversive agenda. They’re all just communists. That’s all we need to know, and all these petty differences are just a distraction.” This kind of attitude only benefits your opponents.

    Here are some distinctive features of the alt-right that I believe antifascists should take into consideration:

    * The alt-right is strong in online tactics but weak in on-the-ground organization. White supremacists have long been pioneers in exploiting new communication technologies, but the alt-right is the first far right current that exists mainly online. Alt-rightists have skillfully used online memes such as #Cuckservative and #DraftOurDaughters as propaganda tools to shape mainstream discourse. They have also turned online harassment and abuse into a potent tactic for frightening and silencing opponents. This raises important challenges for antifascists. It’s one thing to shut down a neonazi rally, or even a website, but something else again to shut down a Twitter campaign of vicious threats and abuse sent from a constantly moving array of anonymous accounts.

    On the flip side, alt-rightists have little formal organization and very limited capacity to muster supporters for in-person rallies or other events. This could change. Some alt-right groups, such as the Traditionalist Youth Network/Traditionalist Workers Party, are actively building bridges with older school white supremacist groups, in part to help increase their physical presence.

    * The alt-right brings together different branches of white nationalism. Some alt-rightists embrace neonazi ideology. Others emphasize a pseudoscientific “race realism” that’s heavy on IQ statistics and genetics. A third major current borrows from the European New Right, which has reworked fascist ideology using concepts borrowed from progressive movements, such as cultural diversity and identity politics. There’s overlap between these currents, and despite some infighting the alt-right has so far succeeded in maintaining a “big tent” approach and avoiding the sectarian splits that have stymied many earlier far right initiatives. But ideological difference could be a point of vulnerability.

    * The alt-right encompasses rightist ideologies that don’t center on race. White nationalism has been the alt-right’s center of gravity, but the movement also overlaps with other political currents, including:
    • the so-called manosphere, an internet subculture of men’s rights activists, pick-up artists, and others focused on destroying feminism and re-intensifying men’s dominance over women;
    • the neoreactionary movement (also known as the Dark Enlightenment), a network of authoritarian intellectuals who regard popular sovereignty as a major threat to civilization;
    • the right-wing anarchism of Keith Preston’s Attack the System, which blends opposition to big states with a kind of Nietzschean elitism;
    • Jack Donovan’s male tribalism, which envisions a system of patriarchy based on close-knit “gangs” of warrior men.
    These currents have significantly influenced alt-right goals, tactics, forms of organization, and political targets. They have also helped the alt-right reach out to people who may not be white supremacist — and may not even be white. This capacity to extend its reach is part of what makes the alt-right dangerous. But there has also been conflict: for example some alt-rightists dismissing neoreaction founder Curtis Yarvin (“Mencius Moldbug”) as a Jew, or denouncing manosphere icon and would-be ally Daryush Valizadeh (“Roosh V”) as a “greasy Iranian” who defiles white women.

    * The alt-right is internally divided about how to deal with Jews and gay men. Antisemitism is standard across the alt-right, but it takes widely different forms. Neonazis within the alt-right regard Jews as the ultimate embodiment of evil, who must be completely excluded from the movement and from any white homeland. But other alt-rightists want to ally with right-wing Jews against Muslims and regard Israel as a healthy outlet to keep Jews from subverting white society. And some alt-rightists — notably American Renaissance, one of the movement’s core institutions — welcome Jews as speakers and writers, and as participants in a future white homeland.

    Similarly, while many alt-rightists want to suppress homosexuality, others denounce homophobia as a divisive force that weakens white solidarity and the male bonding needed for civilization to flourish. Some alt-rightists, such as Jack Donovan and James O’Meara, are openly homosexual. Donovan gets a lot of homophobic comments from other alt-rightists but his work is also influential and widely respected in the movement, to some extent even among homophobes. Some alt-rightists have also used Islamophobia in a bid to “wedge gays and Muslims.”

    So far, alt-rightists have kept these disagreements within bounds, but they could intensify, for example if Donald Trump pursues the strongly pro-Zionist Mideast policy he has promised.

    * The alt-right is overwhelmingly male. This reflects the movement’s patriarchal politics, of course, but also the boys club character of the online networks that furnish the bulk of its recruits, as well the alt-right’s general refusal to address women’s interests or concerns in any significant way. By contrast, the equally misogynistic biblical patriarchy movement has far more female participants and activists, because it at least offers women a sense of belonging and recognition, however distorted. A patriarchal family can’t exist without women, but even this kind of family is peripheral or irrelevant to male tribalism and large swaths of the manosphere.

    * Most of the alt-right regards Donald Trump as a useful stepping stone. Most alt-rightists supported Trump’s presidential campaign and were thrilled by his upset victories over both the GOP establishment and Hillary Clinton. But they don’t think Trump shares their politics or will bring about the white ethnostate they want. Rather, they believe a Trump presidency will give them more space to peddle their ideology and “move the Overton window” in their favor. In turn, they see themselves as the Trump coalition’s political vanguard, taking hardline positions that pull Trump further to the right while enabling him to look moderate by comparison. The alt-right’s relationship with Donald Trump has been tremendously beneficial to both parties, but it could also turn sour in any number of ways. Even as he ramps up authoritarianism, Trump will have to navigate between the alt-right and other players, above all an economic ruling class whose majority did not want him to get elected.

                        *                    *                    *

    We are moving into a bleak period, when understanding the forces opposing us will be more important than ever. That means exposing supremacist ideologies in all forms and guises, but it also means developing a political vocabulary that lets us make distinctions, rather than treat all enemies as one undifferentiated mass.

    Related posts on Three Way Fight:
    Alt-right: more misogynistic than many neonazis, December 2016